Vitamins & Minerals – Essential Sports Nutrition

vitamins-and-minerals-essential-sports-nutritionWhen it comes to discussing sports nutrition, optimising athlete performance and energy, the main talking point tends to centre on the use of energy dense foods and the best sources for fuel.

Carbohydrates and protein, for instance, are very often to the fore, as both play a key role in the levels of energy and endurance an athlete has and is able to utilise.

However, many of us tend to overlook the fact that vitamins and minerals are also key components of any nutritional programme for athletes and are vital in optimising sporting performance and future physical development.

Many minerals and vitamins are also essential with regards to improving metabolism – although it is important to remember that they are not sources of energy in themselves.

Vitamins and minerals aid metabolism

Generally, vitamins and minerals can improve the performance of an athlete’s metabolism as they help with the break down of proteins and fat into energy, as well as carbohydrates.

So, if you are an athlete and want to convert nutritional components in to energy quickly and effectively, a good source of the correct vitamins and minerals will aid you and allow you to be more efficient in this energy breakdown process.

This can be beneficial for athletes who exert themselves during high intensity training sessions and competitions, as they are able to rapidly convert nutrients and high energy foods in to the fuel required to power their body.

Everything in moderation

Because of the way vitamins and minerals help in the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy, it is only natural that people assume that taking higher doses will help them to convert food sources in to energy more rapidly, and, in turn, improve their performance.

This is untrue, however, as high doses of minerals and vitamins can actually have a detrimental impact on performance, health and general wellbeing.

Like anything, a sensible approach to consumption needs to be exercised, with the phrase “everything in moderation” being one to bear in mind in this instance.

Avoid excessive consumption of vitamins and minerals

Consuming excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals detracts from what they are generally known to do.

For instance, if you take the “normal” amount of recommended vitamins and minerals, they will act like nutrients and help you break down core energy sources.

However, if you exceed the recommended amounts and ply yourself with what is popularly known as a “megadose”, you will see the positive effects turn to negative ones as they start to behave more like stimulants or pharmaceutical drugs which are banned in competitive sports.

Toxic levels are also known to exist in some vitamins – namely D and A – so it is essential that you exercise caution when consuming these.

Also remember that a lack of these vitamins and minerals can be detrimental to your performance – so getting the balance right is of paramount importance.

Too little is bad, too much is bad… somewhere in the middle is probably just right, although you should monitor carefully your intake.

Microminerals and macrominerals

From an uneducated nutritional perspective it is often assumed that vitamins and minerals do not have any components.

In fact, there are many aspects that make up both groups.

Minerals, for instance, can be categorised as either microminerals or macrominerals.

As you would probably assume, macrominerals are essential and are utilised often.

Macrominerals are stored in the body in large amounts and include calcium and sodium as well as chloride, sulphur and magnesium.

Microminerals make-up the smaller grouping and comprise zinc, copper, iron iodine and fluoride, to name but a few.

Essential vitamins

Vitamins and the categories in the vitamin groups are very large and each is known to be perform different functions within the body.

Again, like minerals, there are two different groups that make up the 13 essential vitamins that a human is known to require.

There are water soluble vitamins – nine to be precise – including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7) and folacin (B9).

Eight of the water soluble vitamins are B vitamins, with the ninth classed as a vitamin C.

There are also fat-soluble vitamins and these include Vitamins A, D and E as well as K.

Recommended daily allowance for vitamins and minerals

There are various recommended Government guidelines (Recommended Daily Allowances) available that help to identify the correct levels of vitamins and minerals that should be consumed on a daily basis.

The following chart uses the EU Recommended Daily Allowance’s (RDA’s) identified in 2004 for twelve vitamins and six minerals.

Where no RDA’s are specified for vitamin K and for the minerals chromium, copper, manganese, potassium and selenium, we have used the recommendations given in The Thorsons Complete Guide to Vitamins & Minerals.

Daily Allowance of Vitamins & Minerals
VitaminRDARequired forNatural sources
A800μgEyesight, growth, taste and appetiteLiver, cheese, butter, eggs, dark green vegetables
B1 (Thiamine)1.4mgNervous system, muscles, heart, digestionLiver, oats, brown rice, sunflower seeds
B2 (Riboflavin)1.6mgGrowth, eyesight, hair, nails, skinLiver, fish, milk, eggs, nuts
B3 (Niacin)18mgEnergy conversion, red blood cellsLiver, meat, oily fish, sunflower seeds, avocado, nuts,
B5 (Pantothenic Acid )6mgEnergy conversion, muscle fatigue, stressLiver, chicken, eggs, oats, brown rice
B6 (Pyridoxine)2mgBlood, nerves, mental healthLiver, pork, nuts, seeds, brown rice
B8 (Biotin)150μgEnergy conversion, bone marrow, hair, skin, nervesLiver, milk, eggs, brown rice, nuts, bananas
B9 (Folacin / Folic acid)300μgBlood, immunity and resistance to infectionLiver, eggs, seeds, lentils, dark green vegetables
B122μgFoundation of all cells in human bodyAnimal meat (liver), fish, eggs, milk, cheese
C60mgIron absorption, immunity to infection, growth and repair of body tissueFruits and vegetables
D5μgBone and muscle growthOily fish, eggs, sunlight
E10mgBlood health, anti-clottingEggs, nuts, seeds, avocado, green vegetables
KCurrently no EU RDABlood clotting and bone developmentLiver, egg yolk, cheese, green vegetables
MineralRDARequired forNatural sources
Calcium500mgDevelopment of bones and teethMilk, cheese, fish, pulses, nuts
ChromiumCurrently no EU RDA (200μg)Blood glucose controlBeef, liver, egg yolks, cheese, onions, lettuce
CopperCurrently no EU RDA (2mg)Bones, hair, skin, immunity to infectionLiver, shell fish, cocoa, olives
Iron14mgOxygen delivery red blood cellsRed meat, liver, kidney, fish, eggs, cocoa, lentils
Iodine150μgThyroid functionKelp, whiting, haddock, other fish (trace amounts)
Magnesium300mgEnergy conversion, body tissue growth and repairMeat, fish, whole grains, sunflower seeds, cocoa
ManganeseCurrently no EU RDA (2mg)Tissue growth, nervous systemWhole grains, pulses, nuts, cocoa
Phosphorous800mgDevelopment of bones and teeth,
activates B complex for energy
Meat, liver, fish, eggs, whole grains, seeds, cocoa
PotassiumCurrently no EU RDA (2g)Energy conversion, body cells, water balanceMost foods inc. meat, fish, dairy produce, fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains
SeleniumCurrently no EU RDA (200μg)Infection immunity, liver, heart,eyes, hair, skinLiver, kidney, fish, shellfish, whole grains
Zinc15mgTissue growth, insulin balanceMeat, liver, fish, shellfish, eggs, cheese

Vitamins and minerals for athletes

Despite the different RDA’s specified by governments around the world, it is important to remember that each and every athlete is different, their training programmes and sporting goals will also be specific to them, and as such these “generic” daily allowances may not be appropriate for everyone.

Because of this we recommend that if you want to learn more and determine what your optimum consumption of vitamins and minerals should be, you seek the advice of a nutritional professional.

Such experienced specialists will be able to evaluate you, your sport and personal goals and then advise on how vitamins and minerals can be used to optimise your performances and give you an indication of the daily amount that you need.

It is important that you identify your sport, details of your training programme, competitive calendar and personal goals, as the need for vitamins and minerals may vary depending on this information.

Most of the time, however, vitamin and mineral requirements stay the same, as sportsmen and women generally alter their nutritional intake to meet their energy and recovery needs.

However, extra vitamins and minerals may be required if an athlete needs to lose weight or is placed on a calorie restricted diet plan.

Under such circumstances, the minerals and vitamins consumed can act as additional supplements and boosters.

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